Feedback with Charlie Bigham
A trip through India in a camper van in the mid-90's sparked Charlie Bighams love for good food and ingredients.
He is equally passionate about sustainability and conservation; working towards a net zero carbon emissions goal in his kitchen, and creating a wildlife sanctuary surrounding his headquarters in Somerset. Over 25 years ago he launched the Charlie Bigham's range which now includes curries, pies, vegetarian and desserts. Fast forward to 2022 and his meals grace most major supermarkets - just don't call them ready meals...
What food always reminds you of your childhood?
Ah that would be Coronation Chicken, it was a recipe that was the norm and I definitely remembering eating a lot, and even now I have a strange fondness for it
Do you have a current favourite restaurant or type of restaurant?
I’d say type rather than individual, I absolutely love middle eastern food and so there are several restaurants that I go to and have fantastic, lovely hummus, delicious falafels or amazing kebabs and rice. That’s my favourite, and I think middle eastern cooking is slowly taking over in England, it’s taken a long time, but I predicted 20 years ago it would be the next big thing. We’re still waiting!
What food or ingredient could you not do without?
Well there’s a sort of very obvious answer to this question if you are a cook, and I am not a chef I’m a cook. It would be really, really tough to cook without onions. They’re a fantastic wonderful, versatile ingredient, you start with an onion and turn it into to many things. If I’m cooking, which I often am, and there’s no onions it’s like “Help! What am I going to do!?” So that’s my number one thing.
When you get home after a long day of testing recipes do you just grab something from the fridge or eat a meal?
It’s very rare that I don’t sit down and have a proper meal in the evening in fact almost never, and I think it’s something we all should do. It’s one of life’s great joys, sitting down having a proper meal either one on one or with other people around having a chat, even more ideally having a drink as well. It’s just a great way to end the day.
The food world has changed so much in the past 26 years, back in 1996 how was your vision for Charlie Bigham ready meals received, and did you receive any negative feedback to begin with?
Well it’s very important - and I have to say this - we don’t make ready meals ! We make nice food, and maybe because that has always been our approach it’s one of the reasons we have never had any negative reactions. In fact people have been hugely encouraging and supportive saying gosh this is great, because this is food I can prepare myself at home quickly without necessarily cooking from scratch. So it’s a night off and it’s not a ready meal… It’s proper food.
Your wooden containers are pretty unique, did people look in horror and say this is just not going to work, shove it in plastic it will be fine?
We were a little bit ahead of our time, and I am very proud that we were, in saying plastic is not a good idea. So about 15 years ago we moved the majority of our packaging to wood, which is a great thing to do and of course when you do something new that no-one else has ever done it’s quite hard. It is more expensive to do while you’re perfecting it and there are a few naysayers who say how ridiculous, but most of our consumers got it straight away and thought that’s interesting, that’s better than plastic. And I think that sort of helped us communicate what I just said about not being a ready meal. Ready meals and plastic go together you can say this comfortably in the same sentence. Whereas as soon as you see our packaging in wood it makes people think that’s a bit different.
What food would you find it hardest to give up?
The one thing I have tried to give up and it’s just not possible is cheese. Cheese is the food of the gods, it’s this remarkable thing you just start with one base ingredient and it can turn into infinite delicious things - it’s magic and pure alchemy! It’s also the perfect way to end a meal - the only problem being you can end up eating quite a lot.
Do you have a favourite Charlie Bigham product (or is that like asking you to choose your favourite child?)
It’s not like choosing my favourite child, I could never do that, but I can choose my favourite meal but it will be probably be a different meal every day. Because every day is a little bit different, it would depend on who I’m having dinner with, what the weather is like and what I'd had for lunch - so you just choose a different thing every day. And our job is to make sure every one of them is delicious so I can’t chose just one and say that’s better than the other one because they’re all delicious, if not then we’ve done something wrong
Is there something particular you always keep in the fridge?
Well, there’d definitely be cheese but something’s gone wrong if there’s not a nice cold bottle of white wine in the fridge. Also another great ingredient to have in the fridge is a pot really nice plain yoghurt, it's good to have because it’s a great accompaniment to so many different things.
What would be your last supper if literally anything was available to you and where would you eat it?
I would eat it somewhere very close to the sea, so I might have it in sight of the sea, very possibly on the west coast of Ireland where I’ve spent a lot of time and I have a deep love for. It would definitely involve fish and shellfish, ideally a lot of both in multiple ways, so lots of courses and all cooked in different ways, depending on what’s been plucked out of the sea that day - so there’s a nice element of chance to it!